Do You Want a Government You Can Believe in Again? Look Beyond the Party Label!
We have long been a house divided by our party affiliations. For too many voters, the (D), (R) and, to a lesser extent, the (I) after a candidate’s name is often the deciding factor in the decision making that takes place in the privacy of the voting booth. We vote not for the most qualified, competent, or honest candidate, but rather for the candidate that sports our approved party label. And we re-elect candidates we know to be inept, self-serving, misguided and even corrupt time and again because “they are one of us.” And then we shake our heads and bemoan the fact that that only approximately 40 percent of Americans think the President is doing a good job (true of both D and R presidents in recent memory) and a whopping 14 percent of Americans think Congress is just swell.
To make matters worse, after voting-in the latest disappointment, rather than holding the person to account and vowing to be more careful when next we cast our vote, we make excuses for their bad behavior/incompetence/corruptness/general cluelessness/lack of leadership (need I go on?) and blame the “other side,” the “enemy,” you know, the guys or gals who sport a letter other than that of our candidate after their name. Or we blame the media–or at least that segment of the media we dislike for not genuflecting on cue in the general direction of “our party label.”
We ought to be ashamed of ourselves far more than the incompetent/self-serving/corrupt/clueless ninnies we keep (repeatedly) electing to high office all over this land. We participate in political campaigns that seem like outtakes from a demented montage of Fellini and Monty Python Films intended to amuse, disturb and ultimately motivate a country of lemmings into doing what they do naturally: march behind their appropriate (R) or (D) banner-carrying leader over the nearest chasm.
So what’s the answer? It’s simple, really. We need to stop identifying with a party that pushes a particular brand of quasi-extremism (the Democratic left wing vs. the Republican right-wing) and look at candidates as individuals. We need to hold everyone–including those we support who carry the “right” letter after their names–to account for what they say and do rather than giving them a pass based on their political affiliation. And we need to stop rewarding politicians and their handlers for engaging in the politics of personal attacks and polarization while failing to answer the relevant questions repeatedly asked of them with impunity. We deserve better than that.
I am a life-long Republican. My politics on most issues are right-of-center. My best friend is a life-long Democrat whose politics on most issues are left of center. He was a delegate for the People’s Party when we were in college together, and I was–am–a Reagan republican. Our friendship runs far deeper than politics, political philosophies or such silly things as party affiliations. We both care deeply about politics and are strong advocates for our very different points of view. But in the hundreds upon hundreds of hours that we have spent discussing politics from the start of our unique friendship in high school to this day, there has never been a single time–not once–when we could not reach a mutually acceptable agreement on fixing the very real problems of the world (on paper, at least) through compromise. Name a controversial issue and we have almost certainly touched on it more than once through the years, debated it at length and reached a mutually satisfactory compromise on what ought to be done to resolve it. Every time. From our teens through our early fifties. On every issue from abortion to the welfare state to socialized medicine and beyond. Why the hell can’t our politicians do that?
So what’s our secret beyond our obvious willingness to compromise? Simple: mutual trust, mutual respect, an unwavering belief in each others’ integrity, and the fundamental understanding that we both want the same things–a better, more just, more equitable society. Our approaches are different, our political philosophies likewise, but our ends are the same. And neither of us is arrogant enough to think we have all the right answers. If Ken were to run for any office, I would be proud to vote for him and would probably go around handing out leaflets on his behalf. I know he would do the same for me. It is not friendship that would motivate me to support him, but the knowledge that he would do his level best to bring about goals we both believe in–and that he would be open to alternate means of reaching those goals, even if they go against party dogma. I trust him implicitly. His principles are not for sale. He stands for something. He wants the same things I do and is willing to compromise to achieve them. When did that particular quality become a liability in a politician or in a human being outside of Washington D.C., the local state houses and talk radio?
In a word, I would support my liberal democratic best friend because he has the only letter that matters after his name: an I for Integrity. Unlike experience, intelligence, and even competence which can be borrowed, bought or rented by the hour in the form of advisers, employees, aides, and consultants, integrity is that rarest, most precious of assets that any politician can possess and the only one that cannot be bought or borrowed. As long as we continue to accept the politics of polarization and vote for unqualified, untrustworthy, unproven or unknown candidates based on their party affiliation, their ability to make nice speeches, and their penchant for emphatically espousing empty slogans, we will continue to have a government that perpetually and predictably disappoints and dismays us. In short, we will continue to have precisely the kind of government we deserve.